Officials reported at the June 27 North Bergen Board of Education meeting that 34 students improperly attending the public schools have been removed from the district. The students don’t live in town but chose to attend township schools for various reasons.
“If they don’t live in the community, they really don’t have the right to go here,” said Superintendent Robert Dandorph. “It’s an honor because these people feel that our town is doing a better job than other towns. We’re not an Abbott [state funded special needs] district so we don’t have enough money to build new schools.”
Also at the meeting, the district hired 34 new teachers to start work this coming fall.
The 34 student exclusions ranged from elementary to high school, with the majority in elementary. The schools from which students were excluded were Robert Fulton with two, Lincoln with 12, McKinley with five, Kennedy with seven, and North Bergen High School with eight. Officials said Lincoln School had high numbers because in addition to the elementary grades, they also have preschool and kindergarten. Kennedy School also borders Jersey City.
District Supervisor John Belluardo, who is in charge of registration and attendance, said the reasons for sneaking into a district could be “economics, babysitting, and because their parents worked in the area.” Some students move out of town but want to remain in the same schools.
“If they don’t live in the community, they really don’t have the right to go here.” – Superintendent Robert Dandorph
Superintendent Dandorph said that in order for a student to be granted leniency the student would need a clean disciplinary record, the students’ parents would need to voluntarily report the non-resident status, and the parents would have to agree to provide transportation for the student and pay the district’s costs in educating the student. Even with these factors, leniency might not be granted.
North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco said that each student costs the district $10,000 to educate, not counting money reimbursed from government grants.
Belluardo said that during the school year, letters are sent out to student’s home addresses, and if they are “returned to sender,” that raises a red flag.
Belluardo said that attendance officers investigate during the day and if there is further doubt about a student’s eligibility, two residency investigators try to verify the address in the evening.
Any parents who aren’t residents are not paying property taxes to support the school system, said town spokesman Phil Swibinski.
Sacco also mentioned that those residents who report non-residents get $100 from the Board of Education. Several school districts in the state offer such “bounties” for the reporting.
The district’s cost per pupil of $10,000 is the sum of all the costs that go into instructing students, so the most recent exclusions saved taxpayers $340,000. Once the students are caught, they are immediately taken out of the district.
“We work very hard at this because it is a big savings for the taxpayer,” said Dandorph.
Sacco said that in the likely event that someone has conned the school district for a long period of time, the district has the right to pursue tuition from the parents after the child’s removal.
“We have to answer to the taxpayers because we don’t have an open enrollment,” said Belluardo.
Thirty-four new teachers for next year
Of the district’s newly hired teachers, 10 will be assigned to North Bergen High School, six to Robert Fulton, two to Franklin, four to Lincoln, one to Lincoln School Annex, four to Kennedy, three to Horace Mann, and four to McKinley.
Some of the new hires replaced 22 teachers who retired.
Dandorph said he and Mayor Sacco, who is also an assistant superintendent of schools, interviewed 80 people for the positions.
“We tried to find someone who had...positive experiences who had multiple degrees so that in the future you can move them around if you have to,” said Dandorph. “It gives you more choices if the population’s changed in the school or in the district.”
Sacco said he believes in hiring from within and is glad that many new hires are bilingual.
“For some of the specialty areas, we’re still hiring,” he said. “I’m very happy with the group. Many of them are local, which I think is a major asset, to have your own residents teaching, especially those that have been through the school system. They have an understanding of North Bergen and the North Bergen students better than anyone else can.”
Vanessa Cruz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org